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Overcoming Friedan’s ghost • Brooklyn Paper

Overcoming Friedan’s ghost

Betty Friedan
showed up in the sky above Seventh Avenue last week as Smartmom headed
to Connecticut Muffin after the PS 321 drop-off.

“You have betrayed the foremothers!” Betty shouted, after listening
to the moms discussing kitchen renovations, pre-school admissions, and
whether there’s fresh kiwi at the Food Coop (there is, but it’s
not always organic!).

“We didn’t struggle for equality so you could obsess over the
PTA candy sale!”

But Smartmom, who once devoured Friedan’s “The Feminine Mystique,”
yelled back: “Just because I drop my daughter off in the morning,
buy after-school soft ice cream with rainbow sprinkles at the Mojo, and
make Kraft, er, Annie’s Macaroni and Cheese for dinner, doesn’t
mean I’ve betrayed the feminist struggle!”

“Oh, no?” Betty screamed back. “Shame on you for stepping
on the backs of your sisters who fought to give you freedom from such
menial domesticity.”

Clearly, Betty was disgusted. With all the Bugaboos and the baby slings,
she probably thought Park Slope circa 2006 was not too different from
the suburbia she wrote about in 1963: “There was a silent stirring.
Each suburban wife struggled with it alone. As she made the beds, shopped
for groceries, matched slipcover material, ate peanut butter sandwiches
with her children, chauffeured Cub Scouts and Brownies, lay beside her
husband at night, she was afraid to ask even of herself the silent question,
‘Is this all?’”

Smartmom and her friends do put the comforter back on the bed in the morning,
make organic peanut butter sandwiches and chauffeur their children to
chess, knitting and hip hop dancing classes.

But that’s where the similarity ends. Smartmom and her friends are
a well-educated, accomplished lot. Sure, some of them took a few years
off to concentrate on their children.

But whether they’re on the job or on the Avenue, they’re movers
and shakers, organizers and instigators. And none of them lie beside their
husbands at night afraid to say anything.

Take Type A, a mom rushing by Smartmom in her Burberry raincoat, high
heels, and a laptop shoulder bag as she headed off to her high-paying
job on Wall Street.

Treading the same path was a cluster of other high-powered lawyer moms,
a network television producer, an architect, a magazine editor, an award-winning
radio journalist and a freelance writer. Smartmom asked Type A if she
was a feminist. “Of course,” she said. “I always thought
it was my birthright to have a career.”

Thanks to Betty and the other feminist pioneers, many Park Slope moms
ascended the corporate ladder, the law firm hierarchy, the mastheads of
magazines, the world of entertainment and the corridors of government.
And just like their 1960s suburban counterparts, many of them asked the
very same question — “Is this all?” — because they
want more from life than just work. And you know what they wanted? Hate
to tell you, Betty: Babies.

Coming of age in the mid-1970s, Smartmom never imagined that she would
one day consider motherhood the most important thing in her life. As a
teenager, she thought the dorkiest thing you could do was be someone’s
mother. What a waste of a life, she used to say.

As a young feminist, Smartmom studied selfdefense and sparred with boys
twice her size. She took women’s history courses, marched in pro-choice
demonstrations, attended assertiveness training workshops, and never once
shaved her legs or underarms.

After college, Smartmom entered the 1980s workforce in a Norma Kamali
jacket with over-sized shoulder pads and became a professional in the
high-stakes world of media.

And three months after Teen Spirit was born, Smartmom went back to her
well-paying job and left him in the care of a trusted babysitter.
But oy, did she suffer. Seeing her son wave good-bye from the window of
their fourth-floor walk-up every morning was heart-wrenching. And she
couldn’t wait to come home.

Smartmom still loved her work, but the hours became untenable. She was
stressed out, exhausted and angry all the time. She soldiered on because,
well, that’s what Friedan would have wanted her to do. And she and
Hepcat needed the money and the health insurance. None of her female co-workers
at the women-owned media firm had children. They were completely hostile
to her request not to work nights and weekends. Sorry, Betty, but this
was woman-on-woman oppression.

Smartmom envied the women who were home full-time because she would come
home too exhausted to get any “quality” from quality time with
Teen Spirit.

But the stay-at-homers were exhausted, too, as well as high-strung, bored,
and, if you asked Betty, disempowered because they weren’t making
money.

So when the Oh So Feisty One came along, Smartmom didn’t want to
miss out on the first year of her life, juggling playdates and IQ-enhancing
activities (this was 1997).

And yet…

Smartmom still had moments when she longed to read the New York Times
on the subway or go to a professional office all day. Sometimes she locked
herself in the bathroom just to be alone and found herself thinking, is
this all there is?

The good thing is that kids grow up. As OSFO has grown more independent,
Smartmom has been able to be “ambitious” again.

So when Betty appeared in the sky again above Peek-a-Boo Kids, Smartmom
was ready.

“I wanted you to see that there was more to life than husband, children
and the home,” Betty said sadly. “So why are all the women around
here pushing strollers and abandoning careers they got good educations
to pursue?”

“Look,” Smartmom said. “I’m not the CEO of a company,
the editor of a newspaper (yet), or a partner in a big law firm. But I
am a writer, a mother, and a wife. I am someone who is passionate about
her career AND her family! Am I not woman? Do you not hear me roar?”

Smartmom heard a giant sigh from up in the heavens, but when she looked
up, Betty was gone.

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